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The Atrophy of Conventional War Fighting Skills?

b00161400

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http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/fp_uploaded_documents/121121_2CR_JMRC_13_01_Collection_Report1.pdf

http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/11/21/a_worrisome_report_on_the_eroded_combat_skills_of_an_army_stryker_regiment

http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/11/27/2nd_acr_follow_up_it_is_hardly_alone_in_the_erosion_of_its_conventional_combat_skil

I imagine that if the US is experiencing these issues then we are as well.  I'm not sure if we're running any equivalent types of exercises or not.  I know 5 CMBG complete was in Gagetown in the Spring and conducted full spectrum ops, has anyone seen an AAR from that?  I believe 1 CMBG went through CMTC recently and I don't think they were doing OP ATTENTION specific training as I saw some pictures from it with Leopards trundling around, anything from that?
 

McG

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1 CMBG did Ex WARRIOR RAM back in the spring - that was 2 x BG (-) in a conventional scenario.  5 brigade (with tanks and AEV from 1 brigade) just put a bunch of guys through a MAPLE RESOLVE.  Both were Wainwright exercises.
 

PuckChaser

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5 Bde just finished a more conventional Maple Resolve in September, and the training I've seen at my unit is all going conventional base to fill that gap. 2 CMBG started with Spartan Bear in 2011 with all out conventional exercise, so the Army definitely is pushing everyone in that direction hard.

Op ATTENTION training is very limited, basic weapons handling, some cultural awareness and depending on where you're going, some "how to mentor" courses, and they don't go to CMTC at all (unless its changed from Roto 1)
 

Fishbone Jones

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PuckChaser said:
5 Bde just finished a more conventional Maple Resolve in September, and the training I've seen at my unit is all going conventional base to fill that gap. 2 CMBG started with Spartan Bear in 2011 with all out conventional exercise, so the Army definitely is pushing everyone in that direction hard.

Op ATTENTION training is very limited, basic weapons handling, some cultural awareness and depending on where you're going, some "how to mentor" courses, and they don't go to CMTC at all (unless its changed from Roto 1)
MCG said:
1 CMBG did Ex WARRIOR RAM back in the spring - that was 2 x BG (-) in a conventional scenario.  5 brigade (with tanks and AEV from 1 brigade) just put a bunch of guys through a MAPLE RESOLVE.  Both were Wainwright exercises.

Great! Thanks for telling us who was there.

What did they accomplish while they were there, and what were the take aways that we can learn from??
 

b00161400

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Here is another good article, but longer.  It often makes reference to the degradation of the IDF's conventional capabilities due to their prolonged engagement in the second Intifada. 

http://carl.army.mil/download/csipubs/matthewsOP26.pdf
 

TangoTwoBravo

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I recently spent the last four years in the field force as a sub-unit commander and unit 2IC. I have participated in a number of field collective training events to include Ex MAPLE RESOLVE 2011 in Wainwright and a wide range of computer assisted exercises (CAXs). The majority of these events were in a so-called "Full Spectrum" mode with aspects of COIN/stability but an emphasis on conventional warfighting against a neer-peer foe.

I believe that there has been some erosion in conventional skills, but I would certainly not say "atrophy." I know a few times in the past couple of years I had to shake my head and try and remember something regarding BG level conventional warfighting that I ahd learned at Fort Knox in 1998 or practiced on the BTE in 2003. On the whole, though, I would say that we can execute skillful combat team quick attacks in 2012 much the same as we did in 2002 before that rather inconvenient war came along.

I do notice some "Afghanisms." I have found that we are really good at leaguers but not so good at hides. We assume air supremacy in our dispositions. We are not used to having to work as part of something bigger where we have to conform to higher-imposed constraints such as timings and boundaries. We focus on culverts and IED danger areas but do not seem as concerned about possible enemy fire positions that overlook these areas. We talk about "pattern of life" in SITREPs on a kinetic fight. We try to openly dominate the battlespace instead of staying in cover. At the same time, as collective training progresses these things improve. More importantly, we have a generation of soldiers and leaders who have combat experience and as long as we stay flexible we can harness that reservoir regardless of the theatre we find ourselves in.

I feel that we are more deliberate now. I have seen CONOPS slides being prepared to backbrief what are essentially combat team quick attacks. Everybody wants a UAV overhead. This mentality may be appropriate in some conflicts but not others. I have seen, however, our units from all arms get into "conventional" warfighting without too much drama. Our individual training did not, for the most part, throw out the conventional piece so I think our base was fairly solid. Still, I hope that we do not simply purge all Afghan lessons and try and channel pure Ex CARAVAN GUARD 89. Our next scrap may well have insurgents and IEDs. It may have enemy T72s. Who knows?

Regarding the articles, I wouldn't get too worked up over them. The author had access to some CALL documents about an exercise and at least one former unit member who was willing to complain about his previous chain of command. In my experience the US Army is a bit more forthright during training with openly critiquing units. It should be taken as a positive that 2nd ACR went through that exercise and had those observations. In any case, most of those observations stated having nothing specifically to do with "conventional warfighting skills." Mission command, leadership and hygiene are neither unique to COIN nor to conventional conflict. 

Anyhoo.
 

Infanteer

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I'll echo Tango2Bravo.  Erosion of some skills as a low-level policing operation has different demands than a high-level combat operation.  In Afghanistan, our emphasis shifted to meet these demands.

However, I feel we have to be very careful about saying there has been any sort of decline on "warfighting skills".  Our sub-unit war fighting skills are probably better than ever - every Afghan tour saw platoon/troop and company/squadron/battery commanders doing their thing.  A combat team attack against a trench or an insurgent in a grape hut demands the same sort of tactical acumen.  Where we've suffered is at the higher level, mostly at the formation level.  Senior leaders went from manoeuvring sub-units/units to managing their AO, which only makes sense.  However, it means we forget things that are associated with manoeuvring large units (and supporting this manoeuvre) in the face of a enemy with real combat power.

The erosion of these skills probably wasn't as pronounced in Canada, as we've been a Battle Group army with a keen focus on the combat team for over a generation now.  I could see the problem being much more pronounced in the US Army which was really organized in most respects around the Division.

However, I also think that Ricks was trying to play a little "Gotcha" journalism with a document that represents a process that he doesn't really understand.

As for "atrophy", lets just look at the 13 issues cited, and see how we stack up (from my point of view, in italics, anyways).  They are interesting as they are at the Regimental level, which coresponds to our Brigade level - a specific area that Army has focused on revitalizing over the last couple of years (as posts above indicate):

[list type=decimal]
[*]Field Craft - Junior soldiers and leaders are not trained in basic field craft skills: Some field craft has eroded, mostly with regards to camoflauge and to a lesser extent defensive routine, but this is a function of leadership, not type of conflict; good units in Afghanistan did range cards, walked their defensive positions (most often TI), set up ablution/piss-s**t points, etc.
[*]Roles and Responsibilities - Officers and NCOs are not familiar with the doctrinal roles and responsibilities of their MTOE positionsMight be a problem specific to the personalities in that unit - Canadian G4s know they are responsible for CSS, etc, etc
[*]Command Posts - Unit Lack Training on Rapidly Displacing Command Posts: This is definitely a problem we had due to the coziness of KAF and Ma'sum Ghar, but we've been good in addressing it.  1 CMBG's Main CP could move in under five hours during Ex WARRIOR RAM
[*]MDMP - Staff Officer and NCOs had difficulty with MDMP in DATE, which varies significantly from MDMP in COIN or Stability OperationsThis is, in my opinion, a problem specific to the US Army which loves big process and big, staff driven planning regardless of the type of conflict.  We've picked up some bad habits from them in Afghanistan which we'll hopefully drop.
[*]Mission Command, Commander's Intent - Many Commanders are not comfortable in allowing subordinate and supporting commanders to operate broadly under their intent and broad mission orders: This is a problem in Canada too, but is not related to COIN or conventional warfighting, but rather personality; some leaders are not comfortable in letting go while others are.  Also, we don't teach Commander's Intent and how to write that important paragraph very well in the Canadian Army
[*]Common Operating Picture, Seeing Yourself - The Regiment and supporting Squadrons did not maintain a current COPAs far as I know, we don't have this problem - I've seen bird tables used quite well in our HQs
[*]"Fighter Management" - The Regiment did not have systems in place to manage its fighters during the extended period of this exerciseThis may represent a challenge from Afghanistan where we conducted "24 hour ops" at a very low pace vs conducting conventional operations at a high pace.  I think we need to be careful about the idea of conducting operations 24/7 in a conventional environment as it is not generally sustainable.  That being said, during peak activity, people get exhausted as the push is made over a couple days - this is nothing new
[*]Communications - Hilly terrain, inclement weather, geographic dispersion, and lack of training in moving and displacing command posts resulted in significant communication problemsFind me a conflict where stuff like this hasn't wrecked havoc on comms.  It's called friction
[*]Synchronization - Regimental and squadron staffs did not effectively synchronize the operations and effects of all subordinate and supporting assets and enablersThis is probably a personality issue specific to this unit; procedures exist to deal with these problems and I've seen them executed well in Canadian BGs and CMBGs over the last few years
[*]Medical Evacuation - The Regiment did not effectively execute ground medical evacuation of wounded soldiers: This is definitely an Afghanism and one we've latched onto; we need to accept that in the face of a more capable enemy and higher friendly casualties that the "Golden Hour" kind of fades, triage takes over and ground evacuation through properly established evac chain needs to be done
[*]Sustainment Planning - Sustainment planning was ineffective throughout the Regiment:This goes back to point 9 and to point 12 below.  But I will caveat it with the issue that we have seen erosion in the ability to sustain large scale operations - Artillery dumping, MSR management, and putting realistic logistics problems within our training are areas for improvement
[*]Sustainment Operations at Company Level - Company XOs and First Sergeants do not understand their roles in sustainment operations at the company levelNot a problem in our Army, IMO.  Company 2ICs are senior Captains and Company CQs are senior WOs.  The Americans, as far as I know, do not do this the same way (ie, 1st Lieutenants are Coy XOs - we confine them to Platoon Command)
[*]Structure of Regimental Support Squadron - The Regimental Support Squadron is not structured to support sustained combat operations: This is a problem unique to the Americans as well - the RSS concept is different than our echeloned system of lines of support.  We moved away from our traditional model in Kabul and it bit us in the a** in Kandahar, so we wisely went back to things like A echelons, Admin Coys and FSGs.
[/list]

So, of the 13 points from the ARR, in my opinion:

2, 4, 6, 9, 12 and 13 are likely problems with specific personalities within the assessed unit or are structural problems unique to the American Army that we don't really have.

1, 5, 8 and 11 are general problems of friction and warfare that always pop up, regardless of the type of operation - we're bound to see them in Canada all the time.

3, 7 and 10 and parts of number 1 really are as a result of the nature of operations in Afghanistan, but that we are making a conscious effort in Canada to readjust to (while remembering why we didn't need to do them in Afghanistan).

My 2 cents.



 

b00161400

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Thanks guys.

One of the key differences between conventional operations and COIN is the importance of tempo.  In COIN it is much less important in terms of the tactical level, whereas in conventional ops there is a great emphasis placed on reacting quicker than the enemy at all levels.  Have you seen a COIN mindset slip in there at all during these exercises or has our emphasis on sect/pl/cbt tm hasty attacks during training protected us from this?

In addition, in Afghanistan we had a tendency to attempt to destroy the enemy by stand off fires rarely attempting to close let alone asslt the enemy.  Have you seen this at all?
 

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Artillery skills actually atrophied a lot during the Afghanistan conflict, with the Regiments still trying to get back into the older style of warfare.

For example, Regimental fires have been a work in progress for the past 2 years as they hadn't been practised since the Afghan conflict started.  As such, such skills as running the CS "0" (RCPO) were lost, as well as the FOO's ability to conduct Regimental missions.  Another problem observed was the integration of the Afghan style FSCC into Canadian operations.  The arty replaced the artillery operations course where officers learned the Ops O job for a Fd and AD regiment with the Fire Effect Coordination Centre Officer (FECCO), which taught solely afghan based ASCC, FSCC, and STACC.  The result has been some confusion about how a battery level FSCC and ASCC exist in a Regimental context.

The AD Regiment was also atrophied bad enough to be ineffective from an equipment point of view, as the extremely needed project to replace the ADATS was pushed back while Leo 2's, M777's, Chinooks, etc were purchased.  The result will see an almost complete dearth of AD skills within the CF.
 

PPCLI Guy

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Bird_Gunner45 said:
The result will see an almost complete dearth of AD skills within the CF.

Not so much dearth as complete absence.  You can't have an AD Regt if you have absolutely no AD capability.....

Time to make some hard decisions - if we don't buy the systems, we do not require the structure.
 

Bird_Gunner45

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PPCLI Guy said:
Not so much dearth as complete absence.  You can't have an AD Regt if you have absolutely no AD capability.....

Time to make some hard decisions - if we don't buy the systems, we do not require the structure.

At this time the former 4 AD structure is supporting UAV operations as well as supporting divisional level FSCC, ASCC, and STA CC force generation.  It is also preparing to accept the future MMR capability that will be introduced as early as 2014 or as late as never. 

What I meant by capability was the knowledge and professional ability.  The arty managed to maintain a STA capability without equipment by training pers in the UK, which allowed the CF to force deploy UAVs, Radars, and AWLS quickly when the time came.  AD could do the same... or it could become the Pioneer capability of the infantry.  Either way.....
 

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PPCLI Guy said:
Not so much dearth as complete absence.  You can't have an AD Regt if you have absolutely no AD capability.....

Time to make some hard decisions - if we don't buy the systems, we do not require the structure.

Actually, no.

The RCAF and RCN both have very capable air defence systems- just don't expect them to be of much use to the Army, if you operate against a near peer force, away from the beach or an airfield.

 

PPCLI Guy

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SeaKingTacco said:
Actually, no.

The RCAF and RCN both have very capable air defence systems- just don't expect them to be of much use to the Army, if you operate against a near peer force, away from the beach or an airfield.

I was imprecise.  I meant to say GBAD....

At this time the former 4 AD structure is supporting UAV operations as well as supporting divisional level FSCC, ASCC, and STA CC force generation.  It is also preparing to accept the future MMR capability that will be introduced as early as 2014 or as late as never. 

All of those functions could be provided from within the construct of an Arty Regiment.
 

Old Sweat

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PPCLI Guy said:
All of those functions could be provided from within the construct of an Arty Regiment.

The challenge of providing divisional level FSCC, ASCC and STA CC organizations is finding the people within an artillery regiment that are not already tasked to do the same thing at brigade level. A regiment could do it, because the skills and staff procedures are not magic, but with three regiments and the challenges of maintaining a rotational G9 etc brigade level deployment, which was the end result in Afghanistan, the gunner world would not be able to carry the extra load. Perhaps there is a requirement for a cadre organization attached to the school, division headquarters or someplace else which could be fleshed out. I do agree that the requirement for these functions alone are not enough to justify another regiment. Having said that, I am particularly concerned about maintaining the ASCC capability, but perhaps that is because we wrestled unsuccessfully with the function in the sixties with the example of Vietnam to give us fits. I know that 20 minutes worth of discussion with a captain from 4 AD a few years ago taught me more about ASCC than I picked up in my three decades as a field gunner.

Now, what about shooting down UAVs?
 

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Old Sweat, raises a valid point.  With the proliferation of UAV's to include non state actors a requirement has arrisen to be able to locate and destroy these things.  I don't think we need something like ADATS to accomplish this, and maybe we don't need a trade dedicated to it either but there needs to be a capability housed somewhere, likely at the unit level and certainly at the Bde level, to be able to combat this threat.
 

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The problem is that, shooting down the UAV (or whatever) is the least complicated part- virtually anybody can do that.  The understanding and control of airspace through an ASCC function is the hard bit.

Is the Army just going to throw this hard won capability away?  If so, what are the implications?
 

Old Sweat

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SeaKingTacco said:
The problem is that, shooting down the UAV (or whatever) is the least complicated part- virtually anybody can do that.  The understanding and control of airspace through an ASCC function is the hard bit.

Is the Army just going to throw this hard won capability away?  If so, what are the implications?
I cannot stress that I agree completely with every thing SeaKing Tacco has said in this post.

For a demonstration of how things could go terribly wrong, I will refer to p. 318 of Operation Anaconda: America's First Major Battle in Afghanistan. "The Cobras were flying the length of the valley. Suddenly, an explosion erupted underneath them. Then another explosion and another blossomed. Brunson Howard looked up an saw a B-52. B-52s were dropping 500-pound bombs through the Cobra formation. They could not communicate with the bombers, so they quickly flew out of the valley."

The book is full of examples of lack of air space control and coordination, due at least in part, to the absence of any agency in theatre to perform the function, and also to too many agencies each with a piece of the action. That is an over-simplification, but the book is worth a read, and not only for that.
 

TangoTwoBravo

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Haligonian said:
Thanks guys.

One of the key differences between conventional operations and COIN is the importance of tempo.  In COIN it is much less important in terms of the tactical level, whereas in conventional ops there is a great emphasis placed on reacting quicker than the enemy at all levels.  Have you seen a COIN mindset slip in there at all during these exercises or has our emphasis on sect/pl/cbt tm hasty attacks during training protected us from this?

In addition, in Afghanistan we had a tendency to attempt to destroy the enemy by stand off fires rarely attempting to close let alone asslt the enemy.  Have you seen this at all?

I certainly observed that our "find, fix, strike" on operations saw the strike piece done by fires followed by "BDA." Before the war we saw fires as the "fix" and an assault as the strike.

In training we are still seeing an actual assault on the objective. If we went back into a COIN shooting war I hazard we would revert to our Afghan ways. I am noticing, though, that we are perhaps more deliberate or methodical than we were in the past based on our Afghan experience.

You are right about the tempo bit. I noticed this during some conventional Regimental and Brigade level manouevre when folks were unused to having to conform to timings and boundaries. We've done quite a bit of conventioanl training, though, and I offer that we're making the gear shift.
 

Bird_Gunner45

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SeaKingTacco said:
The problem is that, shooting down the UAV (or whatever) is the least complicated part- virtually anybody can do that.  The understanding and control of airspace through an ASCC function is the hard bit.

Is the Army just going to throw this hard won capability away?  If so, what are the implications?
 

No, the ASCC is here to stay.  The RCAS and 4 AD Regt both have a vested interest in ensuring that the capability remains in place, and a great deal of time and effort has already been expended fleshing out the TADIL side of the coordination. 

That said, shooting down a UAV is more complicated than something anyone can do.  The trick isn't the shooting portion (assuming that we have a system that can engage anything from a MALE/HALE UAV to to a MUAV), it's having an operator who understand engagement criteria and can carry the out, Officers who understand employment criteria and tactics and can employ those systems optimally, and the staff functions to maximize their effectiveness.  The ASCC is not just there to coordinate airspace... I would argue that the Cobra and bomber problem noted earlier is an AIR FORCE issue as both systems are from that element (and traditionally would have been conducting air interdiction).  The ASCC was initially there as a mix of airforce and army guys to allow for the max use of airspace by both air force airframes and friendly GBAD units (ensuring we didn't shoot down our own air craft) and minimizing restrictions on the air force from the AD weapons.  The ASCC, in its present form came to be in A-Stan as the army controlled the entirety of the AO and there was no "deep" battle, so the AD guys became the link between air force and army.

I agree with Old Sweat- it's easy to say that the close support regiments could do the staff functions.  Physically, yes they could.  4 AD operates at the Div level, far higher than a close support Regiment, which would make it difficult for the CS regiments to maintain the proper skill sets.  You also have to keep in mind the radar and SUAV functions that the Regiment provides.  4 AD/4 GSR is still a valuable asset for the army that provides real functions.
 

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Bird_Gunner45 said:
... I would argue that the Cobra and bomber problem noted earlier is an AIR FORCE issue as both systems are from that element (and traditionally would have been conducting air interdiction). 

The Air Force doesn't fly Cobras, US Marines do. I'd also suspect that while the B-52s were conducting air interdiction, the Cobras were providing close air support.

The A problem was the USAF "72-hour ATO" mindset, even after it was pointed out that the Taliban seldom gave 72 hours notice of their attacks. We quickly learned to rely upon Army/Marine aviation and artillery for our fires needs as the Air Force showed up with a different union.
 
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